IoT: Seeing beyond the ‘things’

What’s the most exciting thing about the Internet of Things?

For most people it is the things – the smartphones, watches, thermostats, refrigerators, streetlights, and even cars. And – yes, there are billions of things.

But the entire IoT is much more than just these things or edge devices. It also includes their connectivity and ability to provide analytics either in the “fog” or the cloud, plus the servers that aggregate information from millions of devices, and the insights that go back to the things to make life better for us all.

It’s exciting. After decades of hype, it’s getting real.

Moreover, IoT is opening opportunities for companies of all sizes – from the largest multinational to the two-person start up.

At Avnet, in ways big and small, we help customers design their piece of the IoT. Avnet supports every customer from maker and entrepreneur to leading technology OEM who has a dream with the resources to help them succeed through each phase of the technology product lifecycle – designing, supplying, building and delivery.

There are two sides to design. First, there is the device, or “thing.” That’s where you have to figure out the best mix of sensors, components, connection modules and other elements. Second, and perhaps even more important, is designing what happens on the data side. That’s where you need to factor in the platform and servers that collect and analyze data. Avnet does both.

A big part of designing an IoT strategy is to think about the future of the IoT even though it has barely arrived in the present. One of the most intriguing fruits of the emerging IoT will be all the data that IoT providers will accumulate. IDC believes that 180 zettabytes of digital data will be created annually worldwide by 2025.1 A zettabyte is one trillion gigabytes.

Rather than just collecting data, companies need to think about ways they can leverage that data for new products and services, and maybe even change the world for the better.

Riding to riches

Man and woman developing new technology products

Take driverless cars. When thinking about a driverless car, most typically think about the car and not the thousands of things make the driverless car driverless. Today’s “connected” cars and tomorrow’s “driverless” cars are continuously performing analytics that helps them navigate pedestrians, potholes, and accidents; find the best route to its destination, and play the video you want to hear or see.

Each car is also streaming its data through the cloud to a data center at headquarters, where computers will be analyzing all that data for patterns. The results of these analytics will be used for prediction – both warning passengers about dangers and alerting them to opportunities. As a result, performance will improve and the consumer experience will be safer, quicker and more pleasant.

That’s a pretty good business model by itself, but it’s just the beginning, just the tip of an iceberg. As a by-product, connected and driverless car IoT systems will also generate mountains of data about the world’s cars, roads, neighborhoods, cities, accidents, injuries, fatalities and route-selection decisions, as well as the performance of every car part, sensor, and processor in the fleet. And a thousand other things.

That data is a business asset, and it can be used in a staggering range of IoT applications including auto part manufacturing, commuting, navigating, safety, travel and other industries. It’s also information that theoretically, at least, can easily be applied to a wide range of public safety measures (there were more than 40,000 motor vehicle deaths in 2016) as well as urban planning, civil engineering, infrastructure development and more.2

And that’s just connected and driverless cars. Now think about every other device in the IoT, today and in the future, and how it will similarly generate data from millions of users, such as the smart street light and the data it collects on weather patterns and air quality. That very big data will be used not only to refine the core services but to generate new services and new revenue. As an asset, the IoT device can conceivably prove far more valuable than the data.

It’s a lot to get your head around. But as we think about the staggering possibilities of the IoT, we need to “go further” and dream big dreams about the future of a connected world – ones that can be the next successful business model and improve the quality of life on our planet.


By Pete Bartolotta, chief transformation officer at Avnet (NYSE: AVT), a leader in technology distribution. The company designs, supplies, makes and delivers solutions that enable customers to get their products to market anywhere in the world.

1 “IoT Mid-Year Update from IDC and Other Research Firms,” Gil Press, Forbes, 5 August 2016.
2 “U.S. Traffic Deaths Rise for a Second Straight Year,” Neal Boudette, The New York Times, 15 February 2017.

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